L.A. Kings (and Sutter) Relaxed

By HOWARD BERGER

NEWARK (June 9) – Though I’ve been around the Los Angeles Kings for nearly two months, having covered each of their games in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, I do not profess the same familiarity as those that are with the team on a daily basis.

That said, I’ve seen enough of the Western Conference champions this spring to recognize a trend or two – such as the convivial, buoyant demeanor of the players and coaches here in Newark yesterday.

After Games 3 of the post-season – as the Kings were poised to sweep Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey (the first-such playoff entity) – there was unmistakable tension about the club. Practices and media sessions were somber and businesslike; the task of executing a four-game triumph appeared more burdensome than inspiring. Alas, the Kings failed in three of the opportunities – knocking off only the Blues in the series minimum – all of the losses occurring on home-ice at Staples Center. Once it experienced defeat, however, the club tended to relax. It carved out series-clinching victories in overtime at Vancouver and Glendale, Ariz., and it carries an unblemished road mark into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final at Prudential Center tonight, with a second shot at winning the National Hockey League championship.

Accordingly, the L.A. players seemed rather jovial during a 45-minute practice yesterday. A truer indication of the club’s disposition – in my experience, anyway – occurred while I was looking about the Devils’ home arena afterward; snapping photos with my trusty Nikon as workers set up for a Roberto Carlos concert last night. Out of nowhere appeared, arguably, the central figure in the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament, who offered to take a picture of me. Instead, I suggested we pose together – to which he readily agreed – and I held the camera at arm’s length, for the image below:   

LOS ANGELES KINGS COACH DARRYL SUTTER HAD MY BACK ON THE COVERED ARENA FLOOR AT PRUDENTIAL CENTER YESTERDAY AFTERNOON.

My impression of Darryl Sutter has changed dramatically over these couple of months. The last time I was in his company on a regular basis was during the 2004 Western Conference final between Calgary and San Jose, which I covered for The FAN-590. Sutter coached the Flames and he created an absolutely miserable environment for the media. Sarcastic and prickly, he belittled reporters’ questions and offered curt, non-insightful answers. On one occasion, at the Saddledome, I summoned the gall to challenge his derisive comportment. An alligator lying in wait in the Florida Everglades wouldn’t have snapped at me as angrily.

To complicate matters, good ol’ Ron Wilson was coaching on the opposite side. I recall the pleasure of media interviews during that series as one would a colonoscopy.

Just more than eight years later, however, I stood with Darryl Sutter on the floor of a darkened, empty arena that could yield his crowning hockey achievement later tonight. Both 53 years of age, we gazed at the concert set-up and briefly talked about our musical preferences, which date to the 1960s and ’70s. Darryl then made his way to the media interview room and spoke honestly and openly about the task of subduing the Kings obstinate rival. Long gone was the churlishness and mockery of yesteryear – replaced, as it has been throughout the post-season, by the inherent genuineness of the Sutter hockey clan. What a moment it will be in Viking, Alberta… if the Kings prevail.

THE CONCERT SET-UP (ABOVE AND BELOW) THAT DARRYL SUTTER AND I OBSERVED AS WE CHATTED BRIEFLY AT THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER YESTERDAY AFTERNOON.

At the risk of alienating those on the left coast, I have a hunch that my pre-series forecast is going to materialize: the Kings raising their first Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 6. The niggling sense that we’re headed back to Los Angeles is multi-fold… a) the Devils played with increasing authority in their third-period triumph the other night; b) Martin Brodeur looked a lot more like the guy we’ve known the past 20 years, and c) the law of averages is screaming for a Kings road defeat in these playoffs.

But, a disclaimer: Nothing the SoCals achieve in the spring of 2012 has surprised me since Game 2 of the opening-round series against Vancouver, when they marched out of Rogers Arena with a second road conquest.

So, maybe Darryl Sutter and crew will return to California alone… accompanied by that glowing, silver bauble they so heartily crave.

More of my images, now, from a Stanley Cup Friday here in Newark:

AS MENTIONED, THE LOS ANGELES PLAYERS SEEMED RATHER JOCULAR DURING THEIR 45-MINUTE SKATE AT THE PRACTICE RINK ATTACHED TO PRUDENTIAL CENTER YESTERDAY – EVIDENCED (ABOVE) BY ANZE KOPITAR (11) AND DWIGHT KING.

PART OF THE MEDIA CONTINGENT ON HAND FOR THE KINGS WORKOUT.

LEGENDARY KINGS BROADCASTERS BOB MILLER (ABOVE-LEFT) AND NICK NICKSON.

      

WORKING WITH NICKSON AS RADIO ANALYST MAY BE THE MOST SARTORIALLY-SPLENDID MAN THIS SIDE OF DON CHERRY. THE EBULLIENT DARRYL EVANS TAKES A CALL AND WATCHES PRACTICE (ABOVE) HERE IN NEWARK. HE IS BEST-REMEMBERED BY KINGS FANS FOR THE MIRACLE ON MANCHESTER: HIS OVERTIME TALLY AT THE FORUM IN INGLEWOOD, CALIF. THAT CAPPED A FIVE-GOAL, THIRD-PERIOD UPRISING AGAINST THE GROTESQUELY-FAVORED EDMONTON OILERS IN THE OPENING ROUND OF THE 1982 PLAYOFFS.

DARRYL SUTTER AND SIMON GAGNE LEAVE THE PRACTICE ICE (ABOVE); MIKE RICHARDS AND BRAD RICHARDSON (15) BELOW. GAGNE WILL AGAIN REPLACE RICHARDSON IN GAME 5.

      

MEDIA SCRUMS…

JEFF CARTER (ABOVE); ANZE KOPITAR (BELOW).

LEFT-TO-RIGHT, ABOVE: DUSTIN BROWN, KOPITAR AND HOODED JONATHAN QUICK.

MEDIA SWARM AROUND QUICK (ABOVE).

BEFORE HEADING TO THE MEDIA INTERVIEW ROOM, SUTTER CHATS (ABOVE) WITH DARREN PANG OF NBC SPORTS (BACK TO CAMERA), INDEFATIGABLE TSN HOCKEY HOST JAMES DUTHIE AND VETERAN COLUMNIST STEVE SIMMONS OF THE TORONTO SUN.

SUTTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) FROM HIS INTERVIEW-ROOM PULPIT.

EMPTY PRUDENTIAL CENTER (ABOVE) AND KINGS’ ASSISTANT GM RON HEXTALL MEANDERING THROUGH CURTAIN OUTSIDE THE VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM.

DRESSING-ROOM DOOR (ABOVE) OF TONIGHT’S VICTOR… OR VANQUISHED?

OUTSIDE THE ROCK…

SCENE OF TONIGHT’S STANLEY CUP FINAL, GAME 5 (ABOVE AND BELOW).

THE BIG BOYS FROM ACROSS THE HUDSON WERE AT PRACTICE YESTERDAY (ABOVE).

THE “IRON MAN” (ABOVE AND BELOW) – BRONZE STATUE IN CHAMPIONSHIP PLAZA, OUTSIDE THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER, SCULPTED BY JOHN KRAWCZYK, AND UNVEILED ON AUG. 17, 2009.

DENIZENS OF DOWNTOWN…

IMAGES FROM NEWARK’S CITY CORE:

      

KUDOS TO THE GREATS…

CONGRATULATIONS TO ROY MacGREGOR OF THE GLOBE AND MAIL (TOP-BELOW) AND LONG-TIME BUFFALO SABRES BROADCASTER RICK JEANNERET (BOTTOM) FOR THEIR SELECTION TO THE MEDIA WING OF THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME IN TORONTO.

   

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